Jewelry companies scrutinized by Human Rights Watch.

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(Basel) – Jewelry and watch companies exhibiting at the Baselworld jewelry and watch fair should disclose their sourcing practices and supply chains, Human Rights Watch said today. Baselworld, one of the world’ largest jewelry and watch fairs, will take place from March 22 to 27, 2018 in the Swiss city of Basel.

“Baselworld is a glamorous event displaying stunning new jewelry and watches,” said Juliane Kippenberg, associate children’s rights director at Human Rights Watch. “Companies should give just as much attention to responsible sourcing of their precious minerals and stones as they do to beautiful design.”

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Human Rights Watch has documented how precious minerals, such as gold and diamonds, are sometimes mined under abusive conditions. Communities near mines have faced ill-health and environmental harm as mines have polluted waterways with toxic chemicals. Civilians have suffered in armed conflict situations when armed groups have fought over access to mines. And children have risked their lives when working in small-scale mines in Mali, Ghana, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Papua New Guinea, and the Philippines.

Human Rights Watch recently scrutinized the gold and diamond sourcing policies and practices of 13 well-known jewelry brands. It found that most companies do not do enough to trace their gold and diamonds back to the mines of origin, address human rights concerns in their supply chains, and share information with the public about their supply chains and efforts to source responsibly. It also found that many jewelers rely on their certification by the Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC), an industry body with weak standards and an audit process that lacks transparency.

The Hidden Cost of Jewelry

Jewelry and watch companies need to do more to ensure that their supply chains are free of human rights abuse.

However, Human Rights Watch also found that the practices of companies differ significantly, and that some companies are taking important steps in the right direction. Tiffany stands out for its ability to track its gold back to the mine, and for its thorough assessments of human rights impacts. Two jewelers with weaker sourcing approaches, the UK jeweler Boodles and the German jeweler Christ, recently pledged to strengthen their practices. The Responsible Jewellery Council, which has over 1,000 members, has signalled openness to strengthening its standard.

Among the businesses scrutinized by Human Rights Watch that exhibit at Baselworld are:

  • The Italian jeweler Bulgari (ranked “moderate”): Bulgari checks human rights risks in its supply chain by visiting suppliers and, occasionally, mines. The company takes extra steps to ensure it tracks its gold through the supply chain. Unfortunately, it does not trace its diamonds back to the mines of origin and does not publish details about its sourcing efforts or the names of its suppliers.
  • The Swiss jeweler Chopard (ranked “weak”): Chopard stands out as a company that sources part of its gold from Fairmined certified mines – small-scale mines with that adhere to a rigorous, regularly checked standard. Unfortunately, Chopard does not say publicly what percentage of its gold originates from these mines, and what it does to source its other gold and its diamonds responsibly.
  • The US jeweler Harry Winston (ranked “weak”): Harry Winston states that it adheres to industry standards on ethical sourcing but provides little information on its suppliers or how it monitors human rights risks in its supply chain.
  • The Swiss watchmaker Rolex (no ranking due to non-disclosure): Rolex does not provide any information publicly on its sourcing practices or its suppliers.

Companies should ensure their supply chains are traceable, transparent, and regularly assessed for human rights conditions, Human Rights Watch said.

Human Rights Watch and 28 nongovernmental organizations and trade unions have also jointly published a Call to Action for the jewelry industry, calling for robust human rights safeguards in their supply chains. In addition, Human Rights Watch has a digital campaign, #BehindTheBling, calling on jewelers to adopt responsible sourcing policies and practices.

For its report, Human Rights Watch approached 13 jewelry and watch brands, selected to include well-known brands from various geographic areas and markets. The brands collectively generate more than US$30 billion in annual revenue – about 10 percent of global jewelry sales. Ten of the companies responded to the Human Rights Watch request for information: Boodles, Bulgari, Cartier, Chopard, Christ, Harry Winston, Pandora, Signet (parent company of Kay Jewelers, Zales, Ernest Jones, and H. Samuel), Tanishq, and Tiffany. Three did not respond: Kalyan, Rolex, and TBZ.

Human Rights Watch assessed 13 companies against seven criteria for responsible sourcing, using information they provided directly and publicly available information.

Based on information publicly available or provided by the companies, Human Rights Watch ranked the 13 companies according to specific responsible sourcing criteria, including efforts to assess and respond to human rights risks, establish traceability, and publicly report about the company’s actions.

“The time has come for the jewelry and watch industry to put responsible sourcing at the heart of its business,” Kippenberg said. “Customers should know that no one was harmed in producing the beautiful jewelry and watches they buy and enjoy.”